Tag Archives: United Nations

Saudi Probe Is Not a Job For the U.N.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

October 24, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has justly triggered international outrage. Yet calls for a United Nations-led investigation are neither justified nor prudent.

Those urging the U.N. to investigate argue that with so much at stake, no sovereign state can be trusted to conduct a full and fair probe. And there is a potential for bias—by the Saudis, whose officials are implicated; by Turkey, a rival of Riyadh; and by the U.S., the Saudis’ longstanding strategic partner. The same is true of many other states, including Britain, France and Germany, all of which have economic and strategic interests in the region.

But this objection proves too much. There are numerous instances in which countries have been accused of terrible crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The list includes the U.S. and every other permanent member of the Security Council. This standard would disqualify virtually every U.N. member.

The general rule is that sovereign states both have the authority and the obligation to put their own houses in order by investigating and prosecuting alleged offenses. Only in the most extreme circumstances can an international inquiry be justified—such as when the state concerned is incapable of undertaking the investigation, or when the alleged offenses rise to the level of widespread international crimes, for which international law prescribes individual criminal responsibility.

The classic examples are war crimes and crimes against humanity, neither at issue here. The murder of a specific person has very rarely been the subject of an international investigation, as in the case of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination. Syrian and Hezbollah involvement was suspected, and the Lebanese government was unable to conduct an investigation free of interference. Beirut thus agreed to the Security Council resolution establishing an independent investigative commission. Yet that probe was shunned by most intelligence services and failed to bring to justice any high-level culprits.

In this instance, Saudi Arabia is fully capable of investigating Khashoggi’s death and has the greatest interest in the matter. Khashoggi was a Saudi national; so, it appears, are his killers. There is obvious concern about the fairness of a Saudi investigation because of the potential involvement of high-level officials close to the royal family, and the conflicting Saudi explanations have been justifiably criticized. Yet the kingdom has been a respected member of the international community and surely understands a whitewash would severely damage its standing.

Turkey, too, has legitimate interests here. If Riyadh officially sanctioned Khashoggi’s killing in its Istanbul consulate, it would be an abuse of the diplomatic rights Turkey affords another sovereign under treaty. The U.S. and other Western powers can and should support and assist both Riyadh’s and Ankara’s investigations.

The U.S. has a strong interest in preserving international legal norms, grounded in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which recognize the nation-state as the highest authority and establish rules that apply equally to all states. There is a determined movement to undermine this traditional system in favor of a supranational authority. These efforts have frequently targeted America, including its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, renditions, interrogations and drone strikes. These matters have elicited condemnations at the U.N. and demands for international investigations. The U.S. has properly opposed such demands because it can and does investigate the allegations itself.

This leaves us with only one solution, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it a few days ago: “We’re going to give them”—the Saudis and the Turks—“the space to complete their investigations of this incident, and when they issue their reports, we’ll form our judgment about the thoroughness, depth and the decisions they make about accountability connected to that.”

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law and have argued before international legal bodies, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-probe-is-not-a-job-for-the-u-n-1540335772

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The Catholic Church and the Convention on Torture

By David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey

The United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment is being urged by several influential nongovernmental organizations to condemn the Vatican when the committee meets this week in Geneva. These groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, claim that the Catholic Church’s handling of child-sexual-abuse accusations against priests and the church’s stand on birth control and abortion amount to violations of the Convention Against Torture.

If the U.N. committee were to grant the groups’ request and conclude that the Vatican has violated the Convention Against Torture, this would represent a legally insupportable and perverse interpretation of the treaty, actually weakening its effectiveness. It would also represent a blatant attack on religious freedom.

There is no doubt that for years the Catholic Church failed to deal in a timely and effective way with child sexual abuse by priests. More recently, however, the church has admitted its mistakes and instituted fundamental reforms to root out the problem, which is hardly unique to Catholics. According to the U.N.’s own World Health Organization Fact Sheet No. 150 on child maltreatment, “approximately 20% of women and 5-10% of men report being sexually abused as children.”

No one doubts the evil of child sexual abuse, but attempting to shoehorn it into the Convention Against Torture is legally incorrect. However monolithic the Catholic Church may seem, it is not a sovereign state, and the Vatican (which is) has no legal authority over the church hierarchy or the millions of Catholic believers around the world.

Although the papacy has enormous spiritual authority, its secular, legal power—which is what the treaty addresses—extends only to the 100 acres of Vatican City, which has about 800 residents. Accordingly, the Holy See in 2002 acceded to the Convention Against Torture for “the Vatican City State” and undertook “to apply it insofar as it is compatible, in practice, with the peculiar nature of that State.” Claims that the Vatican exercises such compelling control over all Catholic institutions and individuals that it bears responsibility for all of their actions reflect a basic misunderstanding of how the treaty and the church operate.

The treaty requires member states to refrain from torture and to take other actions to prevent and punish it by their citizens and within their territory. When Catholics, including Catholic clergy, commit crimes outside of Vatican City, their trial and punishment is up to the countries where crimes occurred. If church officials in those countries were complicit in the offenses, addressing that remains a matter of domestic law. All of this is well-known and accepted international practice.

Attempting to internationalize the very serious crime of child abuse by defining it as “torture” is also misguided. The treaty defines torture narrowly and is directed at states for a reason: to focus attention on repressive governments engaging in torture as a form of terror and as a means of preserving the regimes’ hold on power.

None of this makes a difference to the activists who want to accuse the Catholic Church of violating the Convention Against Torture. Among the most determined are those whose claims are a thinly veiled effort to use a U.N. forum to attack Catholic doctrine, especially the church’s stand on birth control and abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights has even claimed that these key aspects of Catholic belief are themselves tantamount to psychological torture. How so? Because they insidiously shape human behavior, bringing feelings of shame to individuals who seek access to birth control or abortion services, and improperly use the church’s formidable spiritual authority to influence numerous governments to limit access to contraception and abortion services.

By that preposterous logic, any religious faith—or secular doctrine, for that matter—could be condemned for practicing torture if it seeks to motivate adherents to lead their lives in particular ways. This attempt to hijack the Convention Against Torture for political purposes degrades the definition of torture and undermines the treaty’s efforts to end these terrible practices.

Even critics of Catholic doctrine should appreciate that the Convention Against Torture is not the proper instrument, and its U.N. monitoring committee not the proper forum, to challenge anyone’s religious beliefs. Were a sovereign state to act in this manner and attempt to suppress or penalize religious beliefs, its behavior would violate other critical international instruments, including the U.N.’s own International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, with their explicit protections for religious liberty.

If the Convention Against Torture committee stretches the treaty to condemn an entire religious institution for the criminal behavior of individuals who belong to it, the treaty’s credibility will be dramatically diminished. That’s bad enough. But if the Convention Against Torture were used to single out the Vatican for condemnation, Catholics and Catholic clergy around the world would be marked as somehow collectively responsible for individual offenses, leaving these innocent people open to attack and persecution, particularly in countries where religious liberty is already threatened. This is not the mission of the Convention Against Torture—or of the United Nations.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304178104579534370116475920

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey served in the U.S. Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. They are partners in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker & Hostetler LLP.

The legal case against Palestinian statehood

Radio interview with Frank Gaffney on Secure Freedom Radio (9/23/2011): American attorney and political writer, David Rivkin presents the legal case against Palestinian statehood. As said by Rivkin, objective criteria must first be met in order for a given entity to be granted statehood in the United Nations. Under these rights and duties, the given entity needs to have a territory, population, government that exercises effective sovereignty, and is able to go into agreements with other nations. According to these standards, Palestine does not meet the basic objective criteria to become a state. Palestine does not control Gaza or even the West Bank. Since Israel controls most of the land that Palestine claims, Israel is the only one that can “midwife” Palestine into a state. Furthermore, the United Nations is not in the business of recognizing the state, but is only able to take an existing state and make it a member of the UN. While some argue that the Vatican is an exception to this rule, Rivkin fires back that the Vatican, as the oldest existing state in history was able to merely ushered into the UN with non-member status.

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